Pemmican 101: The Ultimate Native American Superfood

pemmican recipes and history

What if I tell you today that there is a food that you can make at home that is inexpensive to produce and which will last for years to come?

I am referring to pemmican.

Some survival experts also claim pemmican to be the ultimate food for survival. It has all the protein and energy that your body will ever need to sustain itself for a couple of months up to a year.

It is straightforward to make and only requires dried meat, fat, some dried berries, and salt.

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In this article, I will teach you some of its rich histories and also how to make it from home.

I will also reveal to you some variant recipes that you can try at home if you grow tired of the original one. If you want add pemmican to your survival pantry, then you can read this guide on the survival foods used for an emergency stockpile.

What Is Pemmican?

Pemmican is an old Native American food that can be stored for a very long time without it having to spoil. It is very nutritious and is full of energy and protein where it is made from dried meat mixed with berries and then rendered in fat. If the Native Americans had to have an MRE (Meal Ready-to-Eat), then it would be Pemmican.

The ultimate Native American survival food.

Pemmican is so nutrient dense that you can survive on it alone for several weeks. The secret to making Pemmican last so long is to separate the lean meat from the fat and allow the meat to dry. Take the fat, put it in a pan and start rendering it until no more bubbles come out.

Then mix the dried meat with the hot fat.This meat can easily be stored in a cool and dry place without the use of a freezer. On top of it all, Pemmican also tastes very good. Most people do not like the taste of game animals, but it becomes much more tolerable when dried and mixed with berries or other dried fruit. Pemmican is also paleo friendly and does not contain any grains and dairy.

Pemmican History

Pemmican started to get popularity from the late 18th century to the mid 19th century. It is made from only three ingredients which include meat, fat, and berries. The most common meat source during the 1800s was bison.

It’s Origin

native american

Moose, deer and elk meat was also used but was mostly dependent on its availability. The idea of pemmican originates from the early Native American who populated America.

It is still being prepared by the Native Americans today, and its name comes from the word “pimîhkân” which originates from the Cree Indians. The word “pimî” which is the first part of the name means fat or oil.

Pemmican was not very popular yet and was soon made famous by the Métis people. The Métis people are descendants of Canadian French voyageurs who have taken native American women as their wives. The Métis people was also very involved in the Canadian or North American fur trade.

They introduced pemmican on a larger scale which started the pemmican trade. This group also formed a whole society around hunting buffalo where the men would hunt the animals, and the women would process the buffalo into meat used for pemmican and the fur for trading.

The Métis would hunt buffalo two times per year which happened during the spring and fall. They produced more than enough pemican to sustain their living throughout the harsh winter months. Half of the pemmican they kept for themselves and the other half was being sold.

The Pemmican Wars

pemmican wars

This war took place in North America between the years 1812 up to 1821 and lasted for nine years total. It was fought between the North West Company (NWC) and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC).

The Métis people sold half of the pemmican to the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company. These companies were involved in overseas trade and used the pemmican to provide food for their voyages.

There was also fierce competition between these two companies that led to a war which was called the Pemmican War. The Brittish government later had to step in to stop the violence and forced the companies to merge.

How It Was Traditionally Made

Traditionally, the meat used to make pemmican came from bison. While the men hunted the buffalo, the women processed the carcasses. The meat was stripped from the bones and cut into thin strips. The strips were then layed out on wooden rack next to the fire which allowed them to dry.

Once the meat became dried and brittle, it was then crushed into finer pieces and then rolled under a stone to turn it into a fine powder. The fat around the loin and kidneys (suet) was then melted in a pan. Sometimes they cracked open the bones and also mixed in some bone marrow along with the fat.

Sometimes they would also mix in some dried berries such as blueberries or any other berry that they could find. They would then combine the meat and berries with the melted fat and then store it in rawhide bags. They would use a ratio of 1:1 in volume when mixing the dried meat with the melted fat.

The skins of the buffalo were also dried and stripped of their hair and sown into rawhide bags in which they could store the pemmican. The Métis people were very effective in their job, and it is rumored that one Métis woman could process up to 10 buffalo per day.

A single buffalo could produce more than 110 kg of raw meat which could give 20 kg of dried meat. The buffalo can also provide the same amount of fat to use with the dried meat to make the pemmican.

How To Make And Store Pemmican

The Ingredients Needed

  • Lean red meat
  • Rendered fat
  • Blueberries or any other berry
  • Salt and pepper

You can make as much as you want. If you are buying red meat, then make sure you buy five times more than the fat because it will lose a lot of its weight once dried. It is difficult to know precisely how much you should buy for each ingredient because it will lose a lot of weight in the process.

You can use almost any meat, and I would recommend beef, lamb, bison, moose, elk, and deer. I would not recommend you to use to use fish or chicken.

You should also make sure that the meat which you use is lean. If there is some fat on the cut, then you should trim the fat. For this recipe, you can use any fat along with the dried meat.

You can use blueberries but do not feel limited. You can use raisins and cranberries as well. You should also add some salt to enhance the flavor of the pemmican.

Step By Step Guide

I am going to show you exactly what you should do to make the perfect pemmican. Let’s start by preparing the meat.

Step 1. Spicing and cutting the meat

The first step that you would want to do is to add some salt and pepper to the meat. If you have the large cut of meat in front of you, then you would want to season it as is you would season a steak. Do not season it once it is cut because it will then be too salty as you will increase the surface area which comes into contact with the salt.

The second thing that you need to do is to slice the lean meat into thin strips. The reason why you want to cut it thin is that it will dry easier and faster which will take less power or electricity from your part. It will also be easier to break it into finer pieces.

You can use any part of the animal, but make sure to trim the fat from the meat so that it is lean. When cutting the meat, make sure to cut it against or across the grain. By cutting it this way, you will make it easier to break it by hand when it is dried. See the video above on how to do this.

Step 2. Drying the meat (berries are optional)

If you have ever made beef jerky at home, then this step will be a breeze. There are also three drying methods that you can use. The first method will be the most natural.

Take the beef strips and spread them open on a large drying rack. Place the tray somewhere outside in the sun. I would recommend you to place a fan next to the drying rack to prevent flies from sitting on the meat. The fan will also speed up the drying process.

You can also place it on a baking tray to place inside an oven. Use the lowest setting which is usually between 50-80°C. Bake it for around 8 hours until the meat is dry enough to break when bent. You also have the option to use a dehydrator. Most dehydrators will come with a jerky setting which will also give you the duration of the drying process.

If you are using fresh berries, then you should place it in a separate tray inside of the oven or outside in the sun. Wait until the berries are dried. If you plan to use dried berries, then you do not need to do it yourself. To get back to the meat, you should remember that the dried meat’s weight has now decreased to a quarter of its original weight.

Step 3. Grinding the dried meat

Now that the meat is dried, you are now ready to grind it. Make sure that the meat is brittle and will not break easily when you bent it. There are many ways to grind the meat into the coarse powder. You can either use a food processor or a mortar and pestle to grind the meat pieces manually. You should also ground the dried berries until it is the same texture as the ground meat.

Step 4. Rendering and sieve the fat

Now your mix is almost complete. You can either take the fat that surrounds the kidneys or other organs and cut it into fine pieces. The best option is to buy fat that is already minced from the butcher.

Measure out the same amount of fat per volume as that of the ground and dried meat. The best method to render it is with a crockpot. Most crockpots will have a low heat option which is ideal for the fat. You do not want to use high heat because you do not want to burn the fat.

Place the fat inside of the crockpot, turn it on and periodically stir it until you have a clear yellowish liquid. Take this liquid and then run it through a sieve to get rid of all of the solids and crispy bits. Now you are ready to mix all of the ingredients.

Step 5. Mixing all of the ingredients

Before we mix everything together let’s get familiar with our recipe. For pemmican, you want to use an equal weight of dried meat and rendered fat. If you have a scale, let’s get familiar with the measurements.

  • 10 ounces dried meat
  • 10 ounces rendered fat
  • 2 ounces dried berries

You will need 10 ounces of dried meat, along with 10 ounces of rendered fat and 2 ounces of dried berries. First, you need to mix the meat along with the berries and then add the rendered fat into the mix. Stir until the texture becomes consistent.

Now you need to form the pemmican.

You can either pour the mixture into a large tray, or you can roll it into balls with your hands. After it has taken form, you should put it in front of a fan to allow it to dry. The fat will start to return to a solid texture which will help to give the pemmican its form.

How To Store Pemmican

Pemmican already has a very long shelf life and can be extended by keeping it in an airtight container in a cool area. It needs to be in a dark and cool place. Some people like to store pemmican in ziplock which is also a good option.

Pemmican Recipe Variants

pemmican recipe variants

If you have already mastered the original pemmican recipe and you would like to play around with other recipes and ingredients, then this section is for you. What I love about making pemmican is that you can play around with different types of meat such as beef, lamb, deer, elk, moose and also bison where each animal will bring a different flavor to the pemmican.

You can also play around with different types of berries which can include Saskatoon, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, gooseberries and the list goes on. If you want to, you can also add honey which will add a little bit of sweetness to the flavor and honey also has antimicrobial properties which can further extend its shelf life.

You also have the option to add nuts, other dried fruit such as raisins and dates. You can also add peanut butter, sunflower seeds, and cayenne pepper.

Let’s start with the first variant to the original recipe.

Recipe Variant 1 (For The Sweet Tooth)

This recipe incorporates fewer berries than the original one but also has some nuts and honey to give it a rougher texture and a sweeter taste. This recipe is excellent for those that love a mixture of a sweet and salty taste in their pemmican.

  • 10 ounces dried meat
  • 10 ounces rendered fat
  • 1 ounce dried raisins
  • 1 ounce grounded nuts
  • 3 tablespoons of honey

Recipe Variant 2 (Extra Smoothness With A Touch Of Hotness)

This recipe is excellent for those that want some extra smoothness brought forth by the peanut butter and a slight burning aftertaste which comes from the cayenne pepper or dried chili. It will also have a touch of sweetness but not too much.

  • 10 ounces dried meat
  • 10 ounces rendered fat
  • 1 ounce peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper or dried chili

Recipe Variant 3 (For Those That Want Less Meat)

This recipe works great for people that do not want a lot of meat in their pemmican. The dates will give the same texture as the meat without bringing too much sweetness. The nuts will also add some texture to the pemmican

  • 5 ounces dried meat
  • 5 ounces dried dates
  • 10 ounces rendered fat
  • 1 ounce grounded nuts

My Final Tip

If you accidentally added too much fat which makes the pemmican too runny, then you can always add nut powder to the mix to thicken it up. When you first taste the pemmican, you will note that there is not a lot of flavor up front. 

You will start to notice the beefy flavor after you have chewed it a little bit. The oily texture might turn some people off, but if you are in a desperate situation, then it will not matter much. Peanut butter is also very good at hiding the oily texture.

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